President Moon Jae-in declared the southeastern city of Daegu and three nearby regions in North Gyeongsang Province as special disaster zones Sunday, paving the way for state support for the regions hit hard by the new coronavirus.
It was the first time that the government has designated a certain area as a special disaster zone for reasons unrelated to natural disasters. Daegu is the epicenter of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak, accounting for some 77 percent of the total cases.
The three other North Gyeongsang Province regions were the city of Gyeongsan and the counties of Cheongdo and Bonghwa. The government had earlier designated Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan as "special management zones."
The declaration of special disaster zones will allow the government to spend state money to support 50 percent of the expenditures needed for damage recovery.
The move will also permit affected people to receive state support in livelihood costs and exemptions in paying utility bills and public health insurance fees.
"The declaration affirmed the government's commitment to swiftly overcome the crisis in Daegu and the province at the national level," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun while presiding over a pan-government meeting on the virus.
The designated areas have reported more than 80 percent of total infections and nearly 90 percent of deaths. The regional economy has suffered severe shocks from the highly contagious illness.
Chung said the government will review whether to make an additional designation, depending on the extent of damage.
The number of daily new coronavirus cases has slowed to a three-week low following massive testing on followers of the Shincheonji religious sect in Daegu. But concerns about small-scale cluster infections are mounting.
South Korea has reported 8,162 cases of the virus and 75 deaths since the first case on Jan. 20. (Yonhap)